My first high school homecoming is finally happening. I walk through the doors that have gold and red streamers hanging down from the frame behind the two pairs of couples who are my friend group. Third wheeling is pretty bad, but fifth wheeling has got to be worse in some sense. My dress shows more skin than I’d ever think of showing, having only one strap and barely dusting the tops of my kneecaps with its navy cloth and studded rocks around my waist and shoulder. The cloth is soft on my skin, resting calmly on my breasts which have no support and are barely visible in the garment. I’ve never looked this beautiful and of course, no one is there to see it. I mean, there are people here, but people are not him.
I trail behind my group, timidly waving at the chaperones and my peers, rattling off some generic “you look amazing” comments when put on the spot to do so. We enter the gymnasium where the lights are dimmed, balloons are scattered on the floor, and bowls of punch are lined up on tables around the room. The upperclassmen line up in the far end of the room, writing down their votes for the Homecoming Court and the rest of us are aimlessly wandering around, still in that awkward part of the dance where our guards are up and we are aware of how insecure we are acting.
My friends Caitlin and Lucas simultaneously nudge me in the arm, pointing towards the other couple we are with, Karmyn and Jackson. I follow her hand and realize it is in Jackson’s pocket and burst out laughing, jogging away to escape the uncomfortable touching that usually goes on between that couple.
Finding my way to a table at the far end of the gym, I ladle myself a cup of blue punch and take my seat at the table in the back corner. By now, more and more people are entering and mulling around. I watch Kamryn and Jackson give each other the look and then immediately escape into the hallway as expected. Caitlin searches the room for me and once she obtains eye contact, makes an obscene gesture with her hand and starts cackling with Lucas laughing right along with her. It usually goes like that. Karmyn and Jackson enter a social situation and stay long enough to say their hellos and then they disappear into a closet or bathroom. You can guess what goes on after that. Their relationship is a creepy one that everyone kind of hates and hopes will end at any time. We make jokes about them, but in reality our Karmyn’s friendships are put on hold because of her gross boyfriend and we always worry that something bad will happen to her.
Caitlin and Lucas are alright. They’re the star couple everyone else looks to and wishes to be, but in reality aren’t all that special. They click, through. They always have. In some twisted way, they understand each other so much that they rarely need to talk. Caitlin isn’t one for touching and Lucas isn’t one for talking. They speak in silent ways and kind actions. Sometimes it’s boring and I hear all about how both of them want to move on and date someone more exciting, but then I see the way they look at each other and I wonder why anyone would give that up. I sure wouldn’t.
The night proceeds and couples filter in and out, occasionally glancing over at me and waving a salutation or two. I keep my eye on the door for him.
Nine o’ clock strikes it’s spot on the wall, and in he walks with his friends. I feel my knees go weak underneath the plastic table and smile into my cup of untouched punch. A cobalt tie hangs around his thick neck and sways from side to side as he walks further in, shifting his weight between his feet. With the black sleeves rolled up halfway on his button up, I can’t see anyone else in the room. He glazes his eyes over the crowd, looking for someone. While he does so, his friends go off to find their dates and he wanders over to the same punch table I was just at. He pours some for himself then leans on the table and crosses his ankle over his left.
I force myself to get up and walk over.
“Who knew Marcus Conway could clean up so well?” I joke, nudging his arm and sitting slightly on the table, granting a foot or two of space between us.
I look at the mass of people in front of us and wait for a snarky reply from him, but I receive nothing. When I turn back around and make eye contact, he is just staring at me. There is comfort in his eyes and they make me feel like I’m being touched by thousands of fibers of silk. His jaw drops slightly and pulls his lips apart.
“Wow. Creepy,” I laugh, reaching over and pushing his lower jawbone up to meet his top.
“You look…” he begins, grabbing my hand and tugging me off of the table. I stand and twirl, ending my show with a curtsy and waiting for him to finish his statement. “Moderately human.”
I throw my head back and laugh loudly, not trying to give a fake laugh that a lot of girls do around the boy they like. Marcus joins in.
“I know, I know. Thank you very much. I took off my sweatpants for this, take it in while you can because it won’t happen often.”
“Oh I will. But in all seriousness, you look stunning,” Marcus mutters quietly. I blush and thank the universe for not having the lights on at these things. He motions over to the table I was sitting at and I follow him. I go to pull the chair and he walks over, grabbing it for me and pushing it in for me once I am seated. My face is flaming.
“So how about that new King Krule album?” Marcus offers after a few seconds of silence.
“Oh you mean the new album that came out three years ago?”
“I was trying to relate to you, Aubree. I really tried. I even looked up his real name. Archy Marshall,” Marcus replies, holding out his arms and waiting for praise.
I applaud him, “You can operate a computer enough to do a simple google search! Congrats, bud, you’ve really evolved since last week when you couldn’t even email me a photo for the history project.”
I take a sip of my drink for the first time and swish it around in my mouth for a while, making an obnoxious gurgling noise and face to match it.
“What in the world was that?” Marcus asks, appalled.
“I like to pretend that it’s some kind of hard liquor. Vodka or something. Makes these things more interesting. Don’t look at me like that, dork. Try it.”
He raises the cup and takes a small sip of the punch, tipping his head back and returning with a sour, pinched face, “I understand. That is pretty fun. Well, listen. I’m gonna go check on my friends to make sure they’re not actually spiking the punch or doing something stupid so I’ll see you later.”
I nod and try to hide my disappointment, standing up with him and pretending to walk to the bathroom. Instead, I take a detour and exit outside in the hallway. The October air hits me like a cold wall and quenches my fiery skin. I welcome it.
The benches are empty, so I take the first one closest to the door and sit down, bathing in everything I am feeling. I try and calm my heart rate, taking deep breaths and forcing it into submission. I hear the door to the gym creak open and I turn to see my English teacher, Mr. Jones.
“Aubree? Are you okay?” His stout, heavily set body comes towards me and plops itself right next to me. Mr. Jones is young, maybe twenty something, and is the laid back teacher everyone loves.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just trying to clear my head a bit,” I reply reassuringly, adding a smile as a cherry on top.
“Of course you are. Want to share? I’ve got all night and I’d prefer not to go back in there and monitor the dance floor. You kids need to calm down those elbows that are shooting everywhere. It looks like you’re sneezing,” He laughs. I see his crooked teeth and emerald eyes in the yellow glimmer of the streetlight that towers over us.
“Do you really want to listen to a girl whine about a boy?”
“Aubree, I think you’re forgetting that most of the world: books, movies, music, life, is made up of people whining about someone else. The world is ruled by emotions, it is no surprise that you are too. Out with it,” Mr. Jones responds with a glimpse of a smile.
I nod, “Well there’s a boy. And I like him a lot. A lot a lot. But he’s leaving after this year.”
“So?” He asks with a genuine look of confusion on his face.
“So, I can’t do much if he’s just going to leave. I can’t get too close to him. I don’t want to be hurt.”
“Talk about him to me and then I will tell you what you need to hear,” Mr. Jones states. He is a quizzical man but now I am in far too deep and can’t leave him hanging. “Go on. Just talk about him.”
“He came here a few weeks ago and ever since the first day, we’ve had something. I don’t even know how to describe it with justice, because it is unlike any crush I’ve felt on a boy before. The best way to phrase it I suppose is just a feeling of relief. I typically get nervous about most things in life: breathing, living, speaking, etc. When I saw said boy, a wave washed over me. I felt at peace and at the same time nervous in a pleasurable way. He keeps me on my toes and the edge of my seat at all times,” I spoke as if someone had uncorked me and now I was spilling with words like aged wine. “I don’t know why but he is the highlight of my day and I spend most of my time at school counting minutes until I can see him. Whether it’s talking to him directly or just seeing him in the hallways, I thrive on the few moments when I get to be near him. Every time we talk, the corners of his mouth itch up ever so slightly and his eyes soften. He treats me with respect and pure intentions, never threatening me and always knowing when to stop joking. I feel safe around him.”
I take a breath and look over at Mr. Jones who is looking at me with those same cotton eyes that Marcus possesses.
“You’re in love with him.”
The world seems to laugh with me and I dismiss his comment for a joke until he doesn’t tear his eyes away from me. Mr. Jones is serious.
“Nah. I can’t. I’m not even fifteen yet and I barely know him!”
“Aubree,” Mr. Jones turns to me and grabs both of my hands, “I wish someone had told me that you are never too young or too old to be in love. It seems like love is this thing you find when you are older and you’ve figured yourself out. But that’s just not true. Love finds you. It catches you off guard when you are tired and scared and have no idea who you are. It targets you and makes you feel things you’ve never thought you could. It allows you to question yourself with someone else as a reference point. You are never too young to be in love. And I am telling you, Aubree, you are in love with this ‘said boy’ and it is okay. It is wonderful. Love is hard and tortuous but in a way that makes you want to get up in the morning and fight for it. So get in there and fight for it. I know what you are going to say. You’re going to bring up the fact that he is leaving. Who cares? We all leave this world in the end. Fight for your love. If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Live in love, or don’t live at all.”
My eyes are flooded and I wipe away my running eye makeup and furiously nod my head, jumping up. The silver door handle is in my hands when Mr. Portell adds one more thing.
“You and Marcus would be great together.”
I grin and swing the door open, jogging through the waves of people. He is standing with his group of friends in the center of the dance floor. My steps accelerate along with my heart beat as I near him.
Marcus turns to me in surprise and I grab his tie, pulling him down towards me and pressing my lips against his. After a tense second or two, he bends down further and caresses my hip gently. He tastes like vanilla chapstick and blueberry punch and I could stay this way forever.
We part and I look up at him with a smile that he matches. His friends start whooping and patting him on the back while my friends start applauding and cheering as well.
“I love you, Marcus Conway. And I guess you’ll just have to deal with it,” I whisper into the crook of his neck as he brings me into a hug and lifts me off of the ground.
“I think I can do that.”